OLLIE THICKNESSE and CATRIONA STIRLING are left underwhelmed by this staging of Orwell.

1984 ADC Cambridge catriona stirling Ollie thicknesse orwell underwhelmed

ADC Theatre, 7.45 PM, February 4th-8th, £10/8

There was a moment in 1984 that really summed up the entire production: O’Brien attempted to light a match and, despite the initial spark, it failed to set alight and he chucked it behind the bucket, trying to pretend nothing had gone wrong.

To be fair, this entire production was bound to be one of immense difficulty: how to depict the constant surveillance? How to re-create a Room 101 as terrifying as Orwell’s? Many good concepts were attempted, but they didn’t quite get there, much to a packed audience’s audible disappointment.

1984 feature photo

That is not to say that this production was terrible: there were many good moments. First, the use of TV screens was well implemented (if a little obvious), and the actual footage was well edited.

The ensemble work as a whole was solid and well co-ordinated. The Hate Rallies were effective and fight scenes were well choreographed and convincing, apart from a few woeful punches. Julia [Nisha Emich] is to be commended for her superb physical acting. And (thank goodness), Room 101 was suitably terrifying. The lighting here was brilliant: we won’t lapse into spoiler-mode, but, needless to say, we could feel the audience squirming in their seats. However, it would have been all the more effective, had it not been for the drab hour-and-a-half that had come before.

There was something lacking in the overall atmosphere in the first half, something which cannot be put down to first-night slips alone. At the heart of the play, the relationship between Julia and Winston [Jackson Caines] failed to convince thanks to a lack of chemistry; even when Julia was half-clothed, there was no sense of tension or connection between the two, and Winston barely seemed interested.

The idea of lowering props from above may have seemed appealing on paper; however, although it was understandable for the junk-shop scene, the overall execution of the concept was very much lacking. The lowering of the bed was a prime example – why not just carry it on? The delayed arrival ensured that any energy and momentum from the previous scene was lost.

The music also seemed unnecessary and distracting, at times (though perhaps because of technical errors) drowning out the dialogue. The dream/memory scenes are clearly very difficult to stage, especially when trying to keep momentum up for such brief interludes, but it might have helped the audience if there had been a somewhat more obvious change in lighting or tone.

Althought the unfocussed beginning and occasional stumbling over lines may well be attributed to first-night nerves, the show was rarely compelling. We never feared for Julia or Winston, despite the best efforts of a sinister Charrington [Jamie Webb]. Unfortunately, though there were comic moments, we fear that this might be due to the confused tone of the piece; moments which might have been beautiful or tragic were lost to cheap laughs.

The comparative success of the second half was largely down to the fact that one simple yet impressive piece of set (the padded cell) remained on stage for more than a couple of minutes and was used effectively. Otherwise it seemed like lots of things were thrown in but not fleshed out.

For a production that could be characterized by excess (set, concepts, scene changes, time), there was something seriously lacking in atmosphere and execution and the show in general was a little two-dimensional. The second half saw exceptions and provided the stand-out moments of the play.

Rose Reade deserves a mention for her natural and convincing presence on stage, second only to Emily Dance whose impassioned pleas to her captors and heart-rending screams were the highlight of the show – this may have lasted all of two minutes but it was by far the most accomplished and convincing performance of the night.

Overburdened with concepts, marred by poor set decisions, and limited in the acting: for the sold-out audiences alone, we really hope that this production can spark into something far more successful than it was last night, which was, predominantly, disappointing.